Doing a train ride from Sydney to Newcastle last week I never realised it was going to be a steep climb. As I realised it I looked out of the window. (I couldn’t put my head out – the normal practice back in Sri Lanka – but could see through the wide sealed window next to the corner seat I was occupying.)
Being a long train I could see the engine and the first few carriages zigzagging their way. The greenery of the tall trees along with huge brown rocks on either side formed the landscape for a good part of the journey.
My mind went back to the university days when I used to do a regular train trip from Gampaha to Peradeniya. That was the steam engine era of the CGR (Ceylon Government Railway). When the train reached Rambukkana the engine was taken out – it was time to have a refill of water.
The engine was taken to the tall water tank a little away from the station. A long leathery pipe poured water to the engine. Meanwhile, a second engine was fixed to the rear of the train. We watched the operation tasting the ‘masala-wadai’ for which Rambukkana was quite famous. (I don’t know how and why.) Once the first engine got back the train resumed its journey which was the most thrilling part.
We were climbing Kadugannawa. Unlike today when the steam engines have been replaced by the modern diesel locomotives, it was a case of ‘push and pull’ using two steam engines. To see both engines as they took the curves was fascinating. And then the long tunnels. We used to count them but can’t remember the numbers.
On the way to Newcastle we went through a few tunnels but they weren’t as long as the ones in Sri Lanka.
The most picturesque section of the journey was the scenery around the Hawkesbury River. Being a long and broad river the railway track and the river cover a long distance together. It’s a very popular river for boating and right through at several places large amount of boats could be seen anchored being a working day.
Sydney to Newcastle was a two-and-a-half hour ride stopping in just a few stations being ‘a long distance’ train.
It was a most relaxed journey. Since we avoided peak traffic hours, there were only a handful of passengers. There was no ‘class distinction’. The carriages were spotlessly clean. The cushioned seats were very comfortable. It was obvious that lot of attention is being paid to the maintenance of the carriages.
The noteworthy feature was how the train arrived at the Newcastle Interchange (as the station is referred to) exactly at the time given in the timetable – not a minute less, not a minute more. The journey can also be followed over the internet right through. The punctuality is the redeeming feature in public transport whether it be the railway, buses or light rail.
Why the name of the station has been changed to Interchange is because it is the new major transport hub linking trains, buses, taxis and kiss-and-ride facilities. From early 2019 Newcastle Light Rail will also join the hub.
The journey back was another experience – fast speeding down the hills.